I was here in May 2012. The car swerved and I hit my head on the window. It landed right in the middle of knee-deep galleys. I thought my neck would sink in the first time my head hit the roof. The car skidded and came to a stop at the edge of a ditch filled with water and I just about flew off my seat.
The skies cried, and pelted what passes for Mbale—Soroti highway with incessant resolve. I begun to anticipate the skidding and screeching of the brakes and thought I could brace myself. It was dark, and even for the most experienced driver, the puddles were too many, too close together, and all filled with water. So this was going to be it for 100kms. I held onto the handle above my seat, and gritted my teeth. We made it to Soroti with screaming muscles, 2 hrs later.
I was here again on October 28, 2012. And it could only have taken a slight downpour to go back to May all over again. Except I don’t remember thinking about death back then. Perhaps because it was just the driver, a colleague and I. This time there was two more people in the car; my one-year-old nephew and his mother.
Hymns played on the car player, very beautiful music I must say. I sang along to How Great Thou Art. But I was partly praying. My sister-in-law was born, raised and works in Karamoja. But I have never seen anyone agonize about going to their birth place. She wouldn’t if the road was bearable, and the bus service reliable.
Up next on the car player was Hugh Masekela’s Everything Must Change, a very bold attack on Africa’s dinosaur leaders. Masekela sung “…nothing is forever”, but I was on a road that’s barely changed since May 2012. So much for revolutionary hope!
Someone please educate me what the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Act of Uganda says about a contractor that continually exhibits exemplary failure at their job. Between May and October, all that Dott Services Ltd has done on Mbale—Soroti road are dots of road works.
In January 2012, the same company was threatened with losing the contract for Jinja—Kamuli road, for failure to show any competence or willingness to start construction work. In September, transport fares between Mbale and Soroti went up as Awoja bridge went under water again. Youths in the region have protested Dott Services’ snail speed and some were showered in tear gas for demanding that the road be completed. Even MPs have demanded that the company be blacklisted. But the Ministry of Works will blame floods for the slow road works.
The miserable attempts at construction plunge into gaping mini-lakes and mounds of gravel, without warning. No “road works” signs or reflector tapes in most places.
About half the trucks we met on this recent trip were driving with one or no headlights at all. And there was not a single police officer for 100kms.
With the only open lane heavily potholed and the other piled with miserable mounds of gravel, I lost count of how many near-misses we had with heavy DRC-bound trucks. We hurtled our way past Awoja and I could breathe again. It was a drive to forget, on nightmare road.